El Libro Supremo de la Suerte, by Rose Marie Cromwell. TIS Books/Light Work, 2018
Foil stamped clothbound hardcover, 6.75 x 8.75 in, 188 pages with a 24-page booklet.
The magic or the uncertainty of chance is held in all kinds of gambles. Gambles that Rose Marie Cromwell makes by the way she presents us El Libro Supremo de la Suerte. The folds and turns of some photography books hold the key to new forms of constructed abilities that images can express. Stories are natural; the disruptive environment of men and women flood the halls and cities of lands near and far. In Cuba the sands seem to consume men, women are around making things happen, while children run-down streets. The truth is, there are all kinds of people doing all kinds of things full of wonder and fury on this island. The things we see and want engulf the spells we cast as travelers. Cromwell is a translator of sorts, a caster of spells, a keeper of natures and fictions. She is the best kind of artist not merely because of her vision, but because of her care. The thoughtful nature of the photography in El Libro reads as a newcomer who has become a fixture to the people she photographs. She was a stranger who yearned to see deeper, and feel more than the surface of a two-dimensional plane.
Inside her book a viewer becomes cast. I put a spell on you, because you’re mine. She stands the things that others do, waiting for her moment, waiting for a moment. Wanting to see connections and sounds and colors that transform into the ecstasy she exudes. Political systems all have failures; these places seem to drive her to find out more and how people go on. Havana continued to call her back for seven years. Her photography is about something I don’t often hear people talk about directly. Living. The way we structure everyday is careful, or chaotic, new and thoughtful. Each day rises with intimacy, complexity, and the ability to watch others grow. After a full day, the ground sets and cools; the relationships that are dug out are held by the words we exchange around tables filled with learning, and cooking with beans and garlic. There are sounds and smells inside the imagery of El Libro. Words scattered through the pages lead to vignettes and variables.
Pages are cast in a variety of sizes and shapes; moving forward and backward there’s a through-line and a shadow behind every page. You’ll want to look back and wonder what that was? Inching forward through Cromwell’s monograph are photos of people’s reaction to the camera. Some images she has found walking through the streets, nearly unconscious. Others are performative and beckon the question who’s in charge? The collaboration of all these parts is deeply dedicated to the understanding and creation of space. Space, a depth not often thought about once a photograph is taken. How do images interact? How do we see and desire photography to function past the flat plane that gets mounted and framed? It can take on modern roles that feel equally sculptural and poetic. Cromwell sinks her teeth in. The taxes of words are found deep inside her work. Viewers are able to redefine what they see and think based on what they bring to the book and its thoughtful photocopied booklet, originally designed to help one navigate the underground lottery of Havana. There are mysteries and mayhem waiting to be found. A book rarely feels like a thing that needs to be solved, it is a reward to be challenged by her.
I’ve never been to Havana. The thought seems farfetched because of so many structures that exist in American culture and politics. But El Libro Supremo de la Suerte feels very near, almost personal. “Photos aren’t straight and narrow,” Cromwell tells me, “Their language is elaborate.” Her familiarity to the place and subjects in the photos lets time become a medium that makes things richer. I could keep looking through this book and learn something new, see something askew, astounding, unexpected, all building towards something more comfortable every time I look through it. There are contradictions, but so what? That’s life. Lives are lived in complexity and opposites, lives that are at once ancestral as much as they are extraterrestrial. The fun is looking towards someone nearby and wondering what they see. Ask. Conversations in the unknown are worth having.
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